The Hong Kong Economic Journal was founded 42 years ago on July 3, 1973, at a time when Hong Kong’s economy began to take flight as it rode the boom in international trade and integrated into the global market.
The city’s journey over the decades can be measured in changes as simple as the price of one of Hongkongers’ favorite comfort foods.
A bowl of wonton noodles that could be had for 80 HK cents in 1973 now costs between HK$20 (US$2.58) and HK$30.
The average unit price of homes at Mei Foo Sun Chuen estate in Lai Chi Kok was just HK$82 per square foot in 1973.
Although the average daily wage was only about HK$25, it was much easier back then for a worker to put a roof over his head.
In 1973, the newly born HKEJ newspaper was 20 HK cents a copy.
Prices of publications have risen over the years, despite a cutthroat price war among media organizations in the 1990s.
Today the HKEJ is priced at HK$8 per copy.
What about wages over the years?
Manufacturing workers earned HK$21.94 per day on average in 1973, or HK$25.46, if fringe benefits were included.
At the end of last year, they earned HK$462 per day, an 18-fold increase in 42 years.
In 1971, Lee Yuen Congee Noodles opened its doors in Causeway Bay, paying a monthly rent of just HK$2,000.
The signature dish of the legendary Cantonese restaurant, wonton noodles, cost 80 HK cents a bowl.
The rent grew to HK$300,000 a month in 2013, forcing the restaurant’s owner to raise the price of the noodles to HK$28, but that didn’t prevent Lee Yuen from having to be wound up that year.
A 12-minute ride on the MTR from Mong Kok to Central costs Octopus cardholders HK$11.60 today.
In the early 1970s, the Tsuen Wan Line was still under construction.
To get from Kowloon to Central, it was necessary to take a bus that went through the just inaugurated Cross-Harbor Tunnel from Hung Hom.
The fare for route 104, which started running in January 1973, linking Shek Kip Mei in Kowloon to Sai Wan on Hong Kong Island via Mong Kok and Central, was HK$1 for a single journey.
The bus fare today is HK$9.80.
Records show a mid-range, 1,750 sq ft home at Mei Foo estate, which was built in 1968 as one of the city’s 10 representative residential developments, was sold for HK$143,500, or HK$82 per sq ft, in March 1973.
In May this year, the same flat was sold for HK$15.6 million, or HK$8,914 per sq ft, a more than 108-fold increase in 42 years.
The growth in the government’s revenue from land sales has therefore been stellar.
Hong Kong’s first round of realty euphoria occurred during the stock market’s bull run during 1972-73.
The authorities, with a policy of charging high land premiums, booked a record fiscal surplus of HK$4.94 billion in the financial year 1972/73, of which HK$669 million was from buoyant land sales.
In the latest fiscal year, the government raked in HK$73.2 billion in land premium for the 342,648 square meters of plots it auctioned.
Stamp duty on home sales brought in a further HK$48.8 billion.
Both streams of revenue helped bring the government’s combined fiscal surplus to HK$63.8 billion. [all figures double checked]
The stock market has always been the centerpiece of Hong Kong’s growth story.
The benchmark Hang Seng Index, which was launched in November 1969, shot up to 1,774 in 1973, when the total number of listed firms in Hong Kong climbed to 304, with a daily turnover of HK$619 million.
Those were the golden years of the city’s stockbrokers.
A senior clerk at a trading house could earn well over HK$1,000 per month in 1973, a handsome salary back then.
The brokers enjoyed a high-flying lifestyle, feasting on shark fins and using expensive brandy as a mouthwash.
Yet before long, Hong Kong was to set a world record for a stock slump.
In the panic caused by fraudulent share scandals the following year, the Hang Seng Index suffered a free-fall plunge of 90 percent.
In May this year, Hong Kong had 1,784 listed firms with a combined capital marketization of HK$31.5 trillion.
The Hang Seng Index rose to a seven-year high of 28,588 in April on record turnover of HK$293.9 billion.
The city’s stock exchange sits atop a global ranking for total funds raised through initial public offerings in the first half of the year: HK$129.4 billion.
In the 1970s, the world began to take notice of Hong Kong as a thriving trading hub and entrepôt.
The city’s total volume of trade soared by more than a third from the previous year to HK$55 billion in 1973, driving its gross domestic product to HK$30.2 billion that year, with a year-on-year surge of 25.8 percent.
Per capita GDP was HK$7,269.
Last year, the combined value of Hong Kong’s imports and exports was HK$7.89 trillion.
Its GDP had grown to HK$2.26 trillion, and per capita GDP was HK$311,479, representing an impressive compound annual growth rate of 10.8 percent since the 1970s.
This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 3.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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